A few more details from St. Louis

In my last post, explaining the hows and whys of the 1991 riot in St. Louis, there was so much information to cover that I had to leave out a few details. I’ll present them here because I think they are interesting and worth knowing about!

  • During the course of the concert, Duff got nailed in the arm with a beer bottle, but didn’t want to tell Axl for fear he would stop the show.

    Axl: Also, other things happened at the St. Louis gig that I wasn’t told about until two days after the gig. Duff didn’t want me to get excited.

    Musician: Such as?

    Axl: Such as Duff getting hit with a bottle twice during the show. Duff knows I would have called the show and he didn’t want to be responsible for whatever happened out of that. Duff’s attitude is, “I’m a man about things. I got hit with a bottle, big deal.” My attitude is that no, you don’t allow yourself to get hit by bottles because that encourages it in the future.Duff has the biggest bruise I’ve ever seen on an arm because he was hit by a bottle and he didn’t want to tell me onstage. If I had known that, we would have left the stage a lot earlier! And if it happens another night, we will leave again! [Musician “There’s a Riot Going On” Sept 1991]

  • Guns N’ Roses contract at the time guaranteed at least a 90 minute show. Axl said they had met that obligation by the time he left. Concert footage on YouTube clocks in at 84 minutes, but I’m not sure if it had been edited down or whether 6 minutes makes that big of a difference in the end. GNR wasn’t sued for breach of contract, so all parties must have deemed it acceptable.
  • Guns N’ Roses could not be legally held liable for damages because, according to the performance contract, if a venue sold alcohol on the premises, the band was then not responsible.
  • The venue — Riverport Amphitheater (now called Verizon Wireless Amphitheater) —  had only been open for two weeks prior to the Guns concert. Previous shows included the likes of Jimmy Buffet, Steve Winwood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mannheim Steamroller. Not exactly in the realm of GNR.

    I [writer Babu Barat] had interviewed Gregg Hagglund from Contemporary Productions and asked him how Contemporary was going to prepare for a Guns N’ Roses crowd. He said, “We will be prepared. I don’t think, initially, that we’re going to change a lot of things. I think that the party revelers will respect the environment that they are in. It will be a lot bigger crowd. There will be a lot more of them. Those will be the only differences in terms of how we treat the crowd. We will just have more people to deal with, more customers.”
    Axl’s response? “That’s not very intelligent.” [Musician Sept 1991]

  • Because of the destruction to the stage, instruments, and equipment, Guns N’ Roses had to cancel their next two shows in Chicago and Kansas City to give the crew time to make repairs and for the band to secure new equipment. The tour resumed in Dallas on 8 July 1991.
  • Stump admits to sneaking in not only the infamous camera, but also a knife and bottle of whiskey, “like I always have.”
  • Once the settlement was reached between Stump and Axl and court adjourned, Stump approached Axl in the courtroom with his book of photographs and asked for an autograph. Axl — as can be imagined — wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but he did sign it.
  • About three years ago, a mini-documentary was made about the riot from the perspective of the venue staff and Stump. Scenes from the riot itself are also included. It can be seen here: Welcome to the Riot Show.
  • Inexplicably, Axl’s hair and eye color are wrong on his St. Louis mugshot (correct answer: red and green).
    axl-rose-mugshot-6706
  • I mentioned in the previous post that Axl had a special shirt made to express his feelings on the whole incident. The shirt hadn’t been revealed yet by the time Axl participated in a November 1991 Rockline radio interview when a fan from St. Louis called in to ask Axl to justify his little addition to the liner notes of the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl’s answer can be heard here.
    st louis sucks

    I haven’t had time to track down at which concerts Axl wore this shirt; if you happen to know, leave me a comment!

     

  • Unrelated to St. Louis, but perhaps interesting to note is that, had Erin not suffered a miscarriage the previous fall, Axl would have been welcoming his newborn child into the world in July 1991. He never spoke publicly about it besides a slight mention in an interview about the altercation with his neighbor, but it’s possible he had “done the math” and that this played into his state of mind that month.
  • July 1991 continued to be a difficult month as audience goers in Dallas pelted the stage with bottles; the band was met with a less-than-receptive crowd in Salt Lake City; in Tacoma, someone set off bottle rockets during “Rocket Queen;” before one of the shows at The Forum in L.A., a police officer detained Axl’s limo on the way to the concert and wrote them a ticket after another officer had directed them to take that particular route.

I hope these additional details help round out the entire riot scenario. It was a big, complicated night!

Welcome to the Riot! St. Louis 1991

It should have been just another concert, just another stop in the Midwest as the massive Use Your Illusions tour chugged its way around the world. Instead, it now features in Top Ten lists of worst concert disasters and further damaged the public’s view of Axl Rose. Even people uninterested in rock music had heard the news: Temperamental Singer Incites Riot. It was everywhere that summer. Another notch in the belt for those who had preached against the danger and wickedness of rock n’ roll with Axl Rose as their poster child.

For years, this incident has been boiled down to its most basic parts. Details have been lost in the retelling; distortions and poor generalizations have sprung up in their place. Let me be clear: I don’t condone the way Axl handled the situation; it was rash, stupid, and dangerous. However, in researching the events of that evening, once again I find that I can identify with his reasoning and that, while Axl’s actions escalated the tension, most of the blame should not be on him.

The basic gist of the story is this: In the middle of a song, Axl spots a fan with a camera. Cameras were not permitted, Axl calls to the security guards to take it. “Hey! Take that! Take that! Now, get that guy and take that! … I’ll take it, g********!” They weren’t moving fast enough for Axl’s liking, so with a spectacular leap, he took matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, the band kept playing, providing a pretty cool soundtrack to the scuffle on the floor. After a minute, band security hoisted Axl back up onstage. He snatched up his hat and microphone and delivered a line that has gone down in GNR lore:

“Thanks to the lame*** security, I’m going home!”

With that, Axl slammed the mic to the ground and stalked offstage. The band glanced around and then decided it was best to follow him. Around 20 minutes after their exit, the already-agitated crowd transformed into a horde of barbarians and literally tore the place apart. Not even an announcement that the band would return was enough to quell them. Seats were torn from their hinges and hurtled onto the stage. People set fires, slashed things with knives, kicked in the drums and speakers and fought with each other. The concert promoters and police realized the danger of the mob finding the band, so they were put on the floor of a van and escaped from the venue across the state line into Illinois.

This little comic strip is a great illustration of what happened (although it was Matt Sorum on drums, not Steven Adler). Unfortunately, the artist didn't sign their work, so I don't know who drew this!

This little comic strip is a great illustration of what happened (although it was Matt Sorum on drums, not Steven Adler).

The fact that it makes such a good comic strip shows how much of an iconic moment it became. Is Axl the super hero or the villain?

The fact that it makes such a good comic strip shows how much of an iconic moment it became. Is Axl the super hero or the villain?

Unfortunately, the artist didn’t sign their work, so I don’t know who drew this! Thanks to GNRFanarts page for tracking down the artist: DeviantArt member Isnabel!

The general reaction is, “All that over a stupid camera?!” It’s especially hard to wrap our minds around that now when seemingly everyone has a camera on their phone and modern concert footage shows hundreds of little glowing rectangles held up towards the stage.

rock-concert-audience-evolution

So when this incident gets reduced down to Axl Rose vs. Camera, he does come off looking like a lunatic. No sane person goes ballistic over a camera. And when we leave the story there, it’s easy to mock and to laugh and to think that we can sum up the whole complicated person of Axl Rose by this one event. I admit, it colored my perception for years.

As irrational as his behavior may appear at times, Axl is not crazy, nor is he stupid. So what was the real reason that Axl got so upset? To get a better understanding of the vibe that night, it helps to watch the concert in its entirety. That, combined with interviews after the event help us to create a more accurate picture of what went down. We need to be able to see what Axl saw.

The place allowed bottles and knives and whatever else inside… And they [public] think I did it just because I wanted to stop somebody from taking my picture. The camera was the last straw, the final thing. I was sick of it, at that point, with the security in the front. There was a weird space in my mind the entire night. I was thinking, “Something isn’t right up here. Why is there this weird attitude, this passiveness, in the security?” There was no feeling that they were on the same team as us. Their feeling towards the crowd wasn’t right. A young boy and a girl were getting shoved over here while rowdy bikers are being allowed to do whatever they want. What is going on? I was very confused… One thing that is not being said in the press is that Earl Gabiddon [Axl’s bodyguard and head of GNR security at the time] was on the headset and he warned these guys [venue staff] in the front that either the cameras go or the show is off. He warned them four times. He was doing his job. [Musician, “There’s a Riot Going On,” Sept 1991]

Having that information, the puzzle pieces begin to fall together. But there is more that further explains the depth of what occurred. Axl did not attack an innocent fan. As it turns out, the man with the camera was a member of the Saddletramps Motorcycle Club called Stump. Pulling out a camera wasn’t Stump’s only transgression of the night; it was just his last.

All through the concert, Stump and his buddies were on the front row, heckling Axl. If you watch the full concert video, you can see some of these things happen. During the fourth song of the set — “Dust n’ Bones” — Izzy takes the lead, while Axl dances around with a tambourine and chimes in on background vocals. This early in the concert, something was already striking him as odd: at 11:56 on the recording, he looks at the crowd and throws his arms out as if to say, “What’s that about?” About a minute later, we can hear Axl calling out to someone in the audience, throwing his arms out again, but we can’t hear what he is saying over the singing. All during the song, we can see Axl looking hard at the crowd. As he sings the closing notes, he leans down towards someone in the front row (15:48) and takes a small card. ” ‘You have people yelling and screaming during the whole show,’ says Rose, ‘but this guy just wouldn’t stop, and he was loud — almost as loud as my monitor. He’s holding up a card and I’m like, “Okay yeah, that’s great.” But he still won’t stop yelling.’ …  ‘I read his card, ‘ says Rose, ‘and I said, “Okay, you’re Stump from the Saddletramps — was that worth interrupting the show for?” Rose says he asked what he was supposed to do with the card and that Stump told him to ‘remember it.’ ” [Rolling Stone 22 August 1991] With obvious annoyance and disgust, Axl flicked the card onto the drum riser while he got himself a drink.

Two songs later, Axl, trying to be a good guy and connect with his fans, shakes as many hands as he can reach while still singing. There are a few audience members who, not content with a handshake, try to pull Axl into the crowd. Of course, we can’t tell from the video whether one of these is Stump or not, but just the fact that rowdiness like that was permitted begins to explain the vibe of that night.

Despite that, there were lighter moments: Axl grinning and making jokes with Izzy during “Patience;” Slash sitting atop the piano during “November Rain” in just his shorts and socks; Axl laughing at him afterwards as he scurried offstage “to find shoes.”

But things began getting tense again. ” ‘During “Jungle” — I don’t stand during “Jungle” — I just stood there and watched a security guy shove a young kid and walk about four feet into the aisle just to act tough and show the crowd that he was a man. Then he turned around to me with a smile of pride on his face. I looked at this slob while he was looking at me with this pride on his face going, “See what I do to your fans?” ‘ ” [Musician Sept 91] Although, the video doesn’t show what Axl saw, we can see him standing and staring intently into the audience for about half a verse before he snaps out of his inner thoughts and resumes running around. The remainder of the concert appears to go off normally and Axl is in full Rocket Queen character, when suddenly his eye is caught by Stump raising a camera. We know what happens next. When Axl disappears from view (despite the ostentatious black fur coat) it seems to corroborate his story that he wasn’t fighting — he was on the floor, hanging onto Stump so that he couldn’t get away. The band unperturbedly plays on as Axl’s bodyguard Earl lifts him to his feet. Axl is obviously still angry, pointing and yelling, and when a venue staffer leans in to say something, Axl cuffs him upside the head before being returned to the stage. Again the video seems to corroborate his story that he didn’t hit anyone except the venue security guard who was jawing at him.

” ‘When I got back onstage, says Rose, ‘I’d lost a contact, and I couldn’t see. My first thought was, “I’m out of here. I’m paying these guys’ [venue staff] salary, I don’t need to be treated like that by them.” I went backstage,’ Rose continues, ‘and found a new lens. It was getting crazy and we decided we were going to go back out and try to play, because we didn’t want people to get hurt.’ ” [RS 22Aug91]

But by that time, it was painfully obvious that it was too late. The rioters destroyed the band’s drum set, projection screens, monitors and amps in addition to the damage inflicted on the venue itself and each other. 500 police were called in, 60 people sent to the hospital, 15 sent to jail, and damages were estimated around $500,000. Izzy’s Marshall stack was later found 2 miles away, abandoned at a bus stop.

A year later, Axl was arrested in New York as he was returning from a European leg of the tour and was charged with four misdemeanor counts of assault and one misdemeanor count of property damage, issued by the St. Louis county prosecutor. The week following his arrest, Axl appeared in court in St. Louis where he plead guilty to the charges and was put on two years probation, and donated $50, 000 to child abuse organizations and, later, reached a settlement with Stump for injuries sustained when Axl jumped on him. Guns n’ Roses were banned from ever playing St. Louis again. When the Use Your Illusions albums came out in September 1991, that night was commemorated with a nice “F*** you, St. Louis!” in the liner notes. In an interview with Kurt Loder taking place between his arrest and trial date, Axl said, “We lost $1 million worth of equipment in that show and I don’t see anyone else taking any responsibility for anything. And I’m saying, Yeah, I jumped offstage, and yeah, things went haywire after that, and maybe I could have handled it better or whatever, but no one was really handling anything at that point. So I took matters into my own hands with what I could do… but I don’t see anybody else in St. Louis really taking responsibility for anything that happened.”

Although Axl paid his dues twenty years ago, the St. Louis riot remains one of those incidents that he’ll never live down. Understand again that I am not trying to exonerate him or justify his actions. Plain and simple: Axl screwed up. But he owned up to it and made restitution. The blame for the riot itself, however, rests solely on the shoulders of the crowd. As for all the silliness of “Don’t approach Axl with a camera or he’ll punch you out!” — notwithstanding a couple of other “camera incidents” (news crews/paparazzi hassling him in his hotel and the airport), the vast majority of the time, Axl is fairly gracious about having his picture taken, although by his own admission, he doesn’t particularly enjoy it. Axl puts up with a lot more than he is given credit for, and just like any human being, he appreciates being treated with respect. Besides, it has been 20 years since that night in St. Louis; we can stop flogging him now.

What happened to the London O2 2012 show

There has been some confusion and some unwarranted backlash towards Axl (who else?) regarding the cancellation of the London O2 Arena concert that was filmed last summer. The concert was filmed and then word began getting out that it would be shown, in its entirety, at theaters in Germany and England. People bought tickets and were looking forward to seeing the show, but then all the showings were mysteriously canceled. That is where the initial backlash towards Axl began — “He can never finish anything.” “Leave it to him to cancel something people wanted to see.” Etc, etc. Some tickets were refunded, some were not, and it looked to be another black mark on the band’s record. However, the band had never said anything one way or the other about this concert being filmed and shown. Zero promotion beforehand, zero apologies when it was canned.

Then earlier this year, VH1 got everyone’s hopes up saying that they would broadcast a one-hour condensed version of the concert and then, the following week, the entire 3 hour show would air on VH1 Classic (and also on Palladia), preceded by a Guns n’ Roses video block hosted by Eddie Trunk and a re-airing of Axl’s interview with Eddie from November 2011. The one hour concert was, indeed, played on VH1, yet the plug was pulled again a few days before the full version was set to show. On his Twitter account, Eddie cited “contract issues.” Once again, blame lay at Axl’s feet, along with all manner of insults. And yet, suspiciously, the band had nothing to say about it this time, either. That should have been a clue to thinking people that perhaps, just maybe, this thing had never been band-endorsed?

More information was revealed when a representative from Rockfuel, a media company producing a 3D bluray/DVD of one of GNR’s Las Vegas concerts from last November, came on the mygnrforum.com message boards in early March to let fans know what was coming with their production. Discussion immediately turned to “contract issues” and doubt that the Las Vegas show would ever be released. The Rockfuel representative shed some light on what happened with the London show:

For the record, the clip [promo for the Las Vegas show] that was put up briefly was unmixed (as the post stated) . You will see that Axl’s voice sounds great and strong the entire show . The 02 show was very poor editing, poorly shot, and poor mixing and was never approved by GNR camp before it aired.  It was not VH1’s fault or Axl’s fault.  It was some crazy producer who decided to take matters in his own hands and told VH1 the show was approved, when it wasn’t . The same people who announced the O2 show was being released in theaters, then suddenly was cancelled..  Axl had nothing to do with that as well.  We are doing things correctly, with the proper approvals, and the final results will speak for themselves.

With that out in the open now, the whole scenario makes much more sense. It is unfortunate, though, that Axl takes the brunt of every bad thing that happens involving Guns. And people wonder why he wrote “Out Ta Get Me.”

(Hi Nightrain visitors! Thanks for stopping by. 😉 )

Sorry I’m Late

** I began this post last October. Since then we’ve had three birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Surely the irony is not lost, given the topic. **

My husband is a punctual man. When we were dating, he’d say, “I’ll pick you up at 6:00.” And at 6:00, there would be a knock on the door. He may not have realized the full extent of what he was getting into when he married me. I am not, and never have been, punctual. If I arrive anywhere on time it’s for one of these three reasons: 1) Luck, 2) Fear of consequences, or 3) I had to skip doing something important, like eating. It’s not that I enjoy being late or even that I don’t care, because I do. Things just conspire against me.

Things? What kinds of things? Little things. Ridiculous things. A whole barrage of stupid, insignificant things that combine forces about twenty minutes before I need to head out the door. Welcome to the world of the Chronically Late.

Way back towards the beginning of this blog, I discussed how Axl’s birth order of first-born perfectionist affects and directs a lot of what he does. As Dr. Leman noted in The Birth Order Book, first-born perfectionists are often afflicted with lateness. At first, it may seem counter-intuitive. Aren’t the first-borns supposed to be the leaders? The shining beacons to the rest of society? Well, yes, but that’s where the perfectionism kicks in. Our strength is our weakness. We cannot overlook or not do certain tasks because to do so violates our sense of order. Everything needs to be in place and taken care of before leaving.

I’ll give you a real-life example: Often, I have to ready myself and my three kids for church alone since my husband has to be there early. I allot myself an hour and a half to shower, and then feed and dress us all. All of those tasks together shouldn’t take longer than about forty minutes, so where does the rest of the time go? God only knows. I sit the kids down to eat while I take a shower. When I come out, the 7 year old hasn’t finished because she has been reading the comics; the 5 year old hasn’t finished because she’s mad at her sister (don’t look for logic; there is none); and the 3 year old has dumped his bowl of cereal on the floor and knocked over his water. After cajoling the girls into eating their breakfasts, cleaning up the messes and finishing getting all the children properly groomed, before I know it, there are five minutes left until it’s time to leave and I’m still in my bathrobe with wet hair. Some of you punctual types are probably thinking, “You should just get up earlier.” It doesn’t work that way, peeps. All of the above will still happen, plus extra things to fill up all of the dead time. I realize that it sounds like I’m blaming the kids, but I was late well before they came on the scene; they just add a new dimension. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is a battle that I will never win. I will always be late; the best I can do is to strive to be a little less late.

Because I live in the world of the Chronically Late, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of Axl and his tardiness. Just like me, it’s no new thing for Axl — he admits that he has been dealing with it all of his life [That Metal Show, November 2011]. Most people can’t wrap their heads around this so, for those of us in this club, we’re left with either making jokes or pretending that nothing is out of the ordinary. Axl uses both methods. One of his more famous jokes is from a 1992 Rolling Stone interview: “I’m late to everything. I’ve always wanted to have it written in my will that when I die, the coffin shows up a half hour late and says on the side, like in gold, ‘Sorry I’m late.'”

Axl’s explanation to Eddie Trunk [TMS Nov ’10] sounds a lot like what happens to me. Things conspire!

Not complaining or to be a wuss or whatever, just a lot of times, the day of show, everything starts going wrong. People are making mistakes. You’re making mistakes; they’re making mistakes and nobody even knows why. Y’know, it’s like, things you go, “I should know this.” It’s like everybody gets hit by ADD or whatever.

And I think he and I both know that it sounds like a load of crap to punctual people. But whatcha gonna do?

In addition to things not going smoothly, Axl has also discussed the need to mentally prepare himself for a show.

The pressure of having to do the show with whatever else is going on in my life is hard to get past. … We’re out there to win at what we do. And if that means going on two hours late and doing a good show, I’m gonna do it. I take what I do very seriously [RS 2 April 1992]

So you’re trying to sort through that and get yourself in the right headspace and physical whatever that you’ve got to work through. It’s more like sports and having to play the big game. [TMS Nov ’11]

Axl gets a lot of flack for being late and while there is something to be said for showing up when you’re expected, not all cultures are as controlled by clock time as those in the Northern Hemisphere tend to be. For an interesting revelation of what time-keeping means around the world, I recommend the book The Geography of Time, by Robert Levine. In it, Dr. Levine discusses the history of time-keeping and attitudes towards punctuality and tardiness around the world. Anyone who has traveled to another country has surely experienced a bit of culture shock when met with different views on time. Living in France was great for me because showing up 15 minutes “late” was fine and even expected. Dr. Levine learned the hard way that time in Brazil is much more fluid than in the U.S. Now, neither Axl nor I are French or Brazilian, so we can’t claim culture as the reason for our tardiness, which makes it all the harder to live in a culture that values the Anglo-Saxon view of timeliness. American and Northern European views were heavily influenced by railroads trying to get organized in the 1880s. “The moral gatekeepers of the new industrial society were equally convinced of the virtues of clock time and were more than willing to add their own voices to its promotion. The latecomer was characterized as a social inferior and, in some cases, a moral incompetent.” [The Geography of Time, pg. 69]

That’s a pretty big stigma to overcome for those of us who don’t live and die by the clock like the majority of American society. It doesn’t mean that we are excused from making an effort to conform a bit more; it just doesn’t come as naturally. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychology professor, has observed that even within cultures, individual perceptions of time can vary wildly. He contends that each of us falls into one of three broad groups: past-oriented, present-oriented, or future-oriented (For more information on his studies this little video lecture is excellent). According to Zimbardo, each of these perspectives has a direct impact on how we conduct ourselves in life. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Axl displays many behaviors of someone with the present-hedonist view of time and life (hedonist in this case doesn’t necessarily mean debauchery) — which is not to say that that’s all there is to him. Otherwise, the 14 year old kid who had dreams of being a world-renowned rockstar never would have made it out of Lafayette. It takes some future perspective to be able to achieve a goal like that (that’s also where evidence of being a first-born perfectionist again comes to light).

So, with a natural propensity for lateness — all the while knowing that it’s not socially acceptable, which adds its own stress —  Axl has also been accused by Slash of using time as a power play and of not caring about his fans. For a man who wants to do his absolute best at everything he sets his mind to, this is a hard pill to swallow. To someone with a strong sense of punctuality, I can see where the late starts to shows could come across as a power play move. Obviously, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but judging from things that Axl has said and what others have said about his habits, I find that theory less likely. Marc Canter, a friend and supporter of Guns before they were even big in the L.A. club scene, told mygnrforum.com members in August 2012, “Axl has always been late as long as I have known him; that’s just the way it is. Even for haircuts [his wife was hairdresser to the band in the early days] or a doctor visit.” Describing his childhood, Axl said,

I lived right behind my school and I couldn’t make it to the class in grade school. I had a job at the grocery store down the street and I’m running down the street with wet hair; I’m trying to tie my tie, a sandwich in one hand. It’s a comic strip. [TMS Nov ’11]

And explaining his thoughts on show days:

I don’t want to make people sit around and wait — it drives me nuts. That hour-and-a-half or two-hour time period that I’m late going onstage is living hell, because I’m wishing there was any way on earth I could get out of where I am and knowing I’m not going to be able to make it. [RS 2April92]

Recently, current guitarist Bumblefoot was asked what he perceived as the most misunderstood thing about Axl.

I think that, a lot of times, if he’s late on stage or if he’s not going to show up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or if an album is taking too long to come out – that kind of stuff – I think a lot of times people think it’s because he doesn’t care about his fans. They just take it that way. But the truth is I think, from what I see, he cares so much that it almost gets in the way. I would say he cares too much. That’s what people don’t realize about him. They take it the wrong way. They think that if he’s stalling on something that it’s that he doesn’t care but it’s actually because he cares so much that he’s so concerned about doing the wrong thing. He’s trying to feel out what the right thing is to do. That’s one thing I noticed about him: that he cares maybe too much. That’s my perspective if I were to put it into my own words. [boomerocity.com Jan 2013]

The other factor that people fail to take into account is that in the 90s when Axl developed his notorious reputation for extreme tardiness, his personal life was also falling apart, sometimes in dramatic and overly-publicized fashion. In all honesty, it’s a miracle he took the stage at all some nights.

A lot of this goes way, way back, though, to ’91 and where we were super late going onstage. And that really has more to do with, I should not have been on tour. [TMS Nov ’11]

In a 30 October 2012 interview with USA Today, Axl said, “I was expressing my emotions and took that as far as you can and still be alive. I could beat my mike stand into the stage, but I was still in pain. Maybe fans liked it, but sometimes people forget you’re a person and they’re more into the entertainment value.”

Axl has repeatedly tried to reassure concert goers in the last couple of years that “we’re doing a lot better” as far as start times are concerned. Does that mean that Axl will never be late to concerts anymore? Doubtful. But if you find yourself at a show waiting for him to go onstage, keep in mind that 1) old habits die hard; 2) he has the fans in mind as he readies himself; and 3) he’ll make it worth your time.

And there’s something to be said for giving us Chronically Late types a bit of grace, especially considering that we don’t do it on purpose in an attempt to ruin your life. 😉

Shootin’ the breeze with Axl Rose

On Wednesday, 24 October, Axl Rose was the much anticipated main guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was being touted as “Axl’s first TV interview in 20 years!” Eddie Trunk, d.j. and host of VH1 Classic’s “That Metal Show,” took a little exception to that since it was just last November that Axl sat down with him for TMS. Eddie was willing to concede on the point of this being a “live” TV interview and acknowledged that he was happy to see Axl on Kimmel [all via Eddie Trunk’s Twitter account].

Guns n’ Roses has a 12-date residency spread out through the month of November at Hard Rock’s The Joint in Las Vegas. The appearance on Jimmy Kimmel was to drum up a little publicity and re-introduce Axl and Guns n’ Roses to the general public. Many hardcore GNR fans were disappointed at the fluff factor of this interview, but in reality, it wasn’t for them anyways. As I have mentioned before, although Axl has been busy and actively touring over the past six years, he doesn’t command headlines like he used to. And for all those people who only vaguely remember him from the ’90s and were briefly reminded of Axl’s existence during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brouhaha, this type of interview was exactly what he needed. While obviously a tad nervous and stiff (not the first celebrity to appear that way on live TV), Axl came off exactly as I expected him to: polite, affable, generous, charming, and funny. And the general public needed to see that. Remember that violent, angry, foul-mouthed Axl Rose you thought you knew? That stays onstage for the most part and, even so, is largely a thing of the past. The vast majority of Axl’s interviews through the years have shown him to be quite calm and collected, witty and with varying degrees of gregariousness and cheerfulness depending on his mood and comfort with the interviewer. Unfortunately, all of those interviews were aired on MTV or VH1 and would have been viewed only by music fans wanting to see interviews with their favorite rock stars. Going on network television — which typically has relished in flogging Axl’s dangerous bad boy image — exposed an entirely different dimension of his personality to a broader cross-section of people. And he can only benefit from that!

To see the show, click here.

In the promo spot before Axl comes onstage, he strides up to a girl and “signs” her chest. She turns around to reveal the message, “Up next: Axl Rose.” Axl has signed many a body part in his day, but this was just a silly gag. Surprisingly, many people online didn’t seem to catch that despite Axl’s feigned writing motions. May I present, once again, ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A: It’s not his handwriting. But yes, it was funny that he played along.

Jimmy Kimmel opened the interview with a joke about Axl’s punctuality for the show, to which Axl replied with a grin, “It’s a miracle.” Axl’s timekeeping proved to be Kimmel’s fall-back joke, and Axl good-naturedly rolled with the punches. The rest of the interview was a bit of a show-n-tell beginning with an old flyer that Axl and Izzy had made up back when they were playing under the name Rose. I’ve seen a few jabs online about the bad grammar on the photo: “There [sic] living fast and they’ll die young.” Without meaning to dog Izzy, that is his handwriting (mixture of lowercase and capital) and the bad grammar is fairly typical of the writing samples I’ve seen from him. When Axl uses bad grammar, it’s to intentionally sound colloquial (ie. lyrics from “You Could Be Mine”: It don’t matter how we make it; “Breakdown”: You ain’t got no one. Etc. etc.) So why didn’t he proofread his friend’s contribution? Who knows, but that was 30 years ago, so let’s cut them both some slack.

Jimmy mentioned the proximity of early GNR’s rehearsal space to the television studio and asked Axl if he remembered it (why wouldn’t he?). Axl wryly answered, “Unfortunately,” and the internet conspiracy theorists immediately assumed that it was a jab at the old bandmates. First of all, they were talking about the space, not the bandmembers. Secondly, at that point in time, Axl was homeless and basically starving to death; he actually moved into the rehearsal space which was nothing more than a storage unit. No heat/AC, no bathroom, no windows. Ah, memories. I think Axl’s allowed to look back on that without a heart full of warm fuzzies.

From there, Jimmy asked about how Axl ended up in L.A. (he hitchhiked when he was 19).

What was that question, Jimmy?!

Next in the show-n-tell was a photo of Axl’s now-famous Halloween tree. He was at his most engaging during the telling of this story. He declared it one of the most evil things he has ever done. If you’re a parent, you may be inclined to laughingly agree.

Earlier in the day, fans submitted questions for Axl via Jimmy’s Twitter. Axl’s reponses to these were good-natured and let his wicked sense of humor shine. There was one question about voting and Axl had to admit that he’s not a voter (In the ’90s, Guns n’ Roses was invited to play for Rock the Vote and Axl declined, pointing out that he’s a poor example. According to him, his reasons for abstaining are that he never has time to properly research candidates and issues and doesn’t want to just throw a vote out there to say he did it. Musician Magazine Sept. 1991). Still, when pushed, Axl said that he might vote for Obama if he were to vote. It has been funny seeing little headlines and blurbs online declaring, “Axl Rose Endorses Obama! Axl Rose Is a Democrat!” I wouldn’t exactly call this a ringing endorsement: Axl shrugs, “I would lean Obama.” Don’t get too excited, people; besides, he’s not voting anyways.

The interview concluded with more talk about the Vegas residency, the Neil Young Benefit that GNR played last weekend (more on that to come in another post) and Axl’s early musical influences. Then Axl surprised the crowd by announcing that there were two sets of tickets to the Vegas gigs hidden under the seats and then treated the entire audience and crew to a burger from a Tommy’s Burger truck that he had brought along. A few skeptics have doubted that this was Axl’s doing, but I’m inclined to think that it’s perfectly in fitting with his personality. Slash, in his book, has said that Axl enjoys making grand gestures towards people.

All in all, it was a pleasant interview despite its lack of any new revelations. It seemed to be a positive experience for Axl, Jimmy, and the fans; anyone looking for something negative to report is just nit-picking.

Well done, Axl Rose.

That little Hall of Fame kerfuffle

Until April of this year, Axl Rose had largely stayed out of the mainstream public’s eye. Yes, he had been playing some shows, but he hadn’t done anything that the newshounds could jump all over. Then came the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame … The storm clouds broke open with the publication of Axl’s Open Letter to the RRHOF, Guns n’ Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern. As Axl no doubt anticipated and had to prepare himself for, the media was more than happy to splash it all over the place, complete with with the most unflattering photos possible.

Headlines were sure to include negative language such as “dis” and “snub” and often made snide or mocking comments about the letter itself. I have to admit that, when I heard the news on the radio, I rolled my eyes and called Axl a baby, just as I had been conditioned to do. Later, when I actually read the letter for myself, I found that, while long and, in some places kind of cryptic, it was not a nonsensical diatribe as the press would lead us to believe. On the contrary, it is apparent that Axl put a lot of thought into both his decision and the composition of his letter to explain this decision.

Beginning with the composition, it should be evident that Axl is no dummy. His grammar is nigh impeccable and his vocabulary indicates an astute mind. There are times in the letter when he seems to be making lists straight from a thesaurus, but I’ve found this to be a particular quirk of his writing style (which can then be taken as proof that this letter is indeed by Axl himself). Whenever he resorts to this convention, it is in an attempt to cover all the bases so that no one can misconstrue his intent. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people end up getting lost through these sections (the author of this Fox news article couldn’t hang with it) and then just resort to mockery (although, Axl, a few extra commas and dashes may have helped the slower people make sense of what you said; if you ever need an editor or a proofreader, I’m your girl).

The tone of the letter is respectful and earnest overall. In the second half of the letter, as he addresses some of the complications which influenced his decision, Axl does begin to sound weary with a touch of snark. But he doesn’t give in to a full-fledged flaming; he reins it back in to conclude the letter with courtesy and on a positive note.

Of course, just as Axl predicted, people went nuts and immediately began tearing him apart. There are few people who can elicit such venomous reactions (especially from “fans”) as Axl Rose, which, he has admitted before is hard for him to take (That Metal Show interview, November 2011). Now, I realize that this won’t sit well with the majority of these “fans,” but seriously — the guy is human just like you and being famous doesn’t make him immune to the vitriol. The unbridled hatred and violence directed towards him just boggles my mind!

Now, there are  a lot of different ways that Axl could have handled his announcement. He could have sent an autographed photo of himself flipping off the RRHOF; he could have not said anything at all and left everyone wondering; or he could have unleashed a vicious attack, throwing people under the bus left and right. Instead, Axl — read that again: Axl Rose — issued a thoughtful letter to explain his decision; he took the high road for the decision he felt he had to make. It’s unfortunate that people couldn’t respond with the same level of respect and thoughtfulness, regardless of personal feelings about the decision itself.

And as to that choice to decline his induction and not attend the show, I now think Axl was actually fully justified. When the news came out, everyone immediately said, “Oh, it’s because of Slash. He can’t just suck it up for one night?!” In reality, having to put up with Slash was only one of many factors. It didn’t take much research to find that Axl has been a little skeptical of the RRHOF for many years. His first encounter with the Hall was in 1994 when he was called upon to induct Elton John. In his speech, Axl acknowledged, “I’ve never really understood what the RRHOF was about, but tonight I’m getting an education.” Later, in 2008, a fan on a message board asked Axl, “With regard to ownership of the name, how will this affect Guns’ induction into the RRHOF? The new band can’t exactly go and accept the award.” Axl responded

Never thought about that , with the RRHOF. The whole “mature enough” bit was cute. Not to offend anyone but personally I don’t have an interest and other than inducting Elton don’t quite get what it is exactly and who decides what. It seems to mean more to some than others and more so amongst fans. It’s nice to get recognition and have some form of acceptance but in regards to joining others the price is too high and just not worth it. It’s a ways away and seems a bit presumptuous to be contemplating being inducted now.

The people who want to boil it down to just being about Slash are obviously oversimplifying things. In the first three paragraphs in the letter to the RRHOF, Axl discusses his efforts to make more sense of the Hall. He expounds on this a bit more in his follow-up letter to Cleveland and the fans* when he says,

I still don’t exactly know or understand what the Hall is or how or why it makes money, where the money goes, who chooses the voters and why anyone or this board decides who, out of all the artists in the world that have contributed to this genre, officially “rock” enough to be in the Hall?

This isn’t an attack. These are genuine issues I don’t have enough verified information on to have more than rough ideas. Certainly not enough information to make any judgments about.

I did some looking into it and, to be honest, I came away with the same questions Axl has — and he had the benefit of actually talking to people there who obviously didn’t clear anything up. Using a list of nominating committee members, I did a little more investigating. Initially, I was trying to find anyone who may have had a connection — good or bad — to Axl at another time. Instead, what I found was much more interesting. Let me be clear that, while this information isn’t secretive, the Hall isn’t exactly going out of its way to make it public knowledge.

  • Co-founders of the Hall, Jann Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun, were also co-founder of Rolling Stone and founder of Atlantic records, respectively.
  • Of the 35 members on the nominating committee, thirteen have a direct connection to Rolling Stone, three to VH1, and five others have worked for each other in some capacity.
  • Several members appear to vacate and fill each other’s positions at a variety of publications and record companies
  • 5 members also serve on the Board for the RRHOF Foundation — the money end of this whole entity
  • The Board is comprised of past & present CEOs of MTV, VH1, Sony, Warner, and Clear Channel (once again, the “musical chairs” model of the Nominating Committee is in full force here); several investment and hedge fund managers; and a handful of lawyers.
  • Seemingly, everybody on the Board is in everybody else’s business — the real estate attorney represents at least three other members of the Board; investors manage the funds of the record companies represented on the Board; CEOs of talent agencies represent several inductees and probably more than a few hopefuls.
  • The net worth of the majority of the Board members is several times that of Axl’s — we’re talking multi-millionaires and billionaires here — and they still receive exorbitant salaries for their service, whatever that is.
  • Between the Nominating Committee and the Board there are more than a few links to Bruce Springsteen (why?).

I’m not suggesting some kind of conspiracy theory, but this is definitely one big happy inbred family.

Out of that long list of names, I could find only two that wouldn’t sit well with Axl: Irving Azoff and Brian Dunn. Irving Azoff had been an exec at Geffen (GNR’s original label). In March 2008, Axl hired Azoff as manager for the new GNR. However, in May 2010, Azoff initiated a lawsuit against Axl for allegedly cutting him off from funds. Axl counter-sued, citing mismanagement and sabotage of the release of “Chinese Democracy” and mishandling of concert dates to corner him into a reunion tour with the original members. Oh yeah, did I mention that Azoff is also the CEO of Ticketmaster? Brian Dunn was the CEO of Best Buy (until scandal forced his recent resignation) which was the sole — and feeble — distributor of “Chinese Democracy.” I can’t imagine that Axl is too thrilled with that guy, either.

Other interesting things to note are:

  • Anyone who wants to attend the ceremony with a seat on the floor has to pay anywhere from $575-1180 for individual seats or up to $25,000 for a table of ten — and apparently the inductees have to pay for their seats, too.
  • Inductees are provided airfare and accommodations, but in addition to having to pay to attend and accept their award, they are also expected to perform gratis. Those performances are aired on HBO and then recorded on DVD and sold in the Hall of Fame’s gift shop.
    What an honor!
  • The Foundation provides very little funding to the Museum itself, so one has to wonder… where is all the money going?

All this strangeness and I haven’t even touched on the debatable legitimacy of the nominating criteria and process, nor on the inclusion or exclusion of certain musicians. But Jann Wenner (he’s the co-founder and chair of the RRHOF, remember) was awarded the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award. How’s that for a nice self-congratulatory pat on the back?

Knowing all that, it’s understandable why Axl would be a little leery of being inducted.

Now on to that messy business with Slash et al. The original lineup fans can’t get their heads around why Axl couldn’t just suck it up “for one night” for the fans. In reality, the ramifications of even this mini-reunion — most of which we, as the general public, would have no idea about — would have stretched far beyond one night (possibly legally, financially, of course emotionally, career-wise and also vis-a-vis his new lineup). People continually say that Axl is disrespectful of the fans and yet, the fans continually demand that Axl put himself in awkward or complicated situations for their own pleasure. Where’s the respect there? I’m sure that reuniting with Slash played into Axl’s overall decision, but it also seems apparent that he was weighing many other factors. He was fully and painfully aware of the kind of response his decision would generate, but still felt that it was in his best interests to go ahead with it. People call him cowardly, but sticking to your guns (ha!) takes guts. The relief that Axl felt when he discovered that a large number of people supported him in his decision (Eddie Trunk and Piers Morgan were two vocal supporters) is plain in his Cleveland letter. One thing I’ve learned about Axl by watching interviews and reading things he has written, is that he means what he says; he doesn’t say things just to make nice. So when Axl says that he never wanted to disappoint anyone and thanks the Hall for the nomination, I believe he really means it. So, for all of you who disagree with his decision and for all who are upset with him about it: at the very least you should be able to appreciate his honesty.

* My apologies to Axl for not publishing his Cleveland letter in its entirety as he requested. It is worth reading and I hope you will follow the link.

Donington part 2: Paradise City and Band response

This is a companion post to Donington part 1: Media Response. If you haven’t read that first, go back and see it. It gives an overview of the tragedy at Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1988 and the subsequent fallout propelled by the media.

Besides faulty reporting of the actual events and a sketchy follow-up article in Rolling Stone magazine later that year, some people accused Guns of wanting to recreate their own Altamont, the infamous Rolling Stones concert where one fan was murdered by Hell’s Angels “security” staff, three others died from other causes, and numerous other people were injured. Personally, I see a big difference between a tragic accident and a drunken, murderous brawl. Duff McKagan talks about the event in his book (It’s So Easy and Other Lies) and tells how sickened, helpless and confused he felt at watching people fall and how angry he and the other guys were at the selfish fans towards the back who refused to stop pushing forward, even when they had been repeatedly asked to step back.

The accusers also use the Donington footage in the “Paradise City” music video as proof of this so-called desire to reproduce Altamont. Rumors abound that the scenes in the video depict the violent end to the lives of those two men, essentially making it a sort of snuff movie.

I’m not sure how I feel about Guns n’ Roses using the footage from the Donington concert for their “Paradise City” video. On one hand, I understand that they had already booked the video crew for it and the Giants Stadium concert since these would have been the biggest venues they had played to that date. The size of the stadium and the throngs at Donington make for some impressive shots for the music video — kind of a “Hey, we made it!” that was summed up in Axl’s little nod to the camera as he displays his band access passes at 4:15.

On the other hand, it seems that it might have been more respectful to the families of the young men who died not to include that footage. But, from what I have read about the show at Donington and from the bootleg video I have watched, the worst had already happened by the time Guns got to “Paradise City.” The surge towards the stage happened as they opened with “It’s So Easy” and people were going down during “Mr. Brownstone” which was played next. Then, the show was stopped for about twenty minutes while security fished people out of the mud. This is where the bootleg video begins.

The band members are milling around the stage. Axl points at a spot below him and says, “We’ve got a pile-up right here.” The tape cuts and then Izzy comes to the mic to address the situation. “There’s somebody down there!” Shortly thereafter, Slash, who is facing off to the side, begins ripping into his blues jam. Steven jumps down from his drum riser, puts his arm around Slash’s shoulder, telling him to stop as he gestures toward the crowd with his drumsticks. The tape cuts again and comes back partway into the fastest version of “Paradise City” I’ve ever heard (“You’re Crazy” — a new song at the time — was played prior to “P.C.”, but it was not captured on film). There is another cut in the tape and we see Slash finally gets another shot at his jam (on the audio tape, we hear Axl say, “We’re going to try something we tried earlier… On the lead guitar… Mr. Slash!”). When he’s done, Axl returns to the stage and tells the crowd, “The promoters are asking us — in order to keep on playing — to ask the same thing: Can you move back? Everybody try to take a step back. We’ve got some people unconscious still.” Somebody in the audience must have booed him or something because Axl replies, “Hey, this takes time out of my time playing, too, man. This is the only time I have fun all day.” It seems callous now, knowing what happened, but at that point, no one in the crowd or onstage understood the gravity of what was taking place in the medics’ tent. Axl is obviously frustrated at the crowd’s lack of cooperation.

After a pause, Axl tears into his “Welcome to the Jungle” intro, which again, the band plays blazingly fast. It’s like they just want to get out of there. The mics feed back and the sound bounces from one side of the stage to the other. It’s not just the fault of 24 year old video technology — a review of the show published in Kerrang! also noted the trouble with the sound system. When “Jungle” finishes, Axl introduces a new song soon to be released — “Patience.” But apparently our intrepid videographer didn’t see any merit in having one of the first live bootleg copies of it as the tape picks up again at the intro to “Sweet Child,” which then finishes off the bootleg video. The tape cuts off before we hear Axl’s farewell to the crowd, “Have a nice day and don’t @*&#*$% kill yourselves.” With that, the band beats tracks off the stage.

Axl was snatched up pretty quickly after the show for two interviews, one with the Bailey Brothers and one with an unseen and unnamed female reporter. He’s worn out, but is in a good mood after playing to the largest crowd of his career. He tells the Bailey Brothers that Guns had heard horror stories about Donington and were afraid that it would be awful, but said that it turned out to be one of the best days of his life. Having the benefit of hindsight, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. Axl and the band were riding high on the excitement and would not find out until several hours later about the deaths.

In Steven Adler’s book, he recounts how he felt when he received the news:

I was shell-shocked. Numb. I couldn’t believe it. The media blamed the band, fueling our notorious bad-boy image. And we were just starting to get a broader, more friendly public image going when this happened. I called my mom and told her about the terrible tragedy, and I immediately felt some solace as soon as I shared this horrible news with her. She was shocked but was compassionate, explaining that I wasn’t to blame. She reasoned that the promoters have to control the numbers and the way the gig is set up. I understood it but it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better. I felt I had somehow been a cog in some bigger machine that hurt those kids. To this day, the Donington tragedy haunts me like a waking nightmare.

Duff expressed similar sentiments in an interview that appears to be from 2011: “It was all fun and games until that point when it suddenly came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t our fault, but then you start thinking those thoughts of ‘If we weren’t on stage, maybe those guys would still be alive.’ If you were 22 like I was it starts to #%@$ with you a little bit.” (And, with all due respect to Duff, the sequence of events as related in his book does not quite match up with what appears to be happening on the bootleg video of the concert. But it’s understandable that twenty-five year old memories would be a bit jumbled. I think his book is excellent, but do keep that in mind if you read it).

Slash said in his book:

We had no idea that anyone was actually hurt, let alone killed; after we’d done the gig and were celebrating in a nearby pub, Alan [their manager] came in, completely distraught and gave us the news. It was horrible; none of us knew what to do: something that had been cause for celebration a moment before had become a tragedy.

Unfortunately, the only comments by Axl that I could find were in the previously-mentioned Rolling Stone article that came out in November 1988, and those quotes seem to be incomplete. Throughout the article, the author, Rob Tannenbaum, implies that there is a connection between Donington and Altamont. The article is largely commentary with a smattering of band member quotes, which makes it impossible to assign them any kind of context. Axl is quoted as saying, “I don’t know really what to think about it. I don’t want anybody to get hurt. We want the exact opposite,” followed by more author commentary and resuming with, “We didn’t tell people to smash each other. We didn’t tell people, ‘Drink so much alcohol that you can’t %#$@!*& stand up.’ I don’t feel responsible in those ways.” The article concludes in what appears to be a matter-of-fact vein, but upon closer inspection, still seems to hold Axl at fault. It would be interesting to know what else Axl said that wasn’t printed and in what tone those quotes were delivered. Having that information could completely change the timbre of the article. Perhaps that’s why Tannenbaum left it out. Unless he still has his tapes from this interview, we’ll probably never know. But it’s just another cautionary tale on being careful of how you process what you read. And until you know something for a fact (and have the sources to back it up), shady implications are just well-disguised rumor-mongering.

I went back and watched the “Paradise City” video several times, sometimes frame by frame, and, in the end, decided that it was tastefully done. Most of the shots from Donington are of the band either playing or backstage. The crowd footage shows no signs of the massive collapse that was reported in the crowd  at center stage or anyone in obvious distress. It is my conclusion that, by this time in the show, both the band and the audience felt that the problems had been resolved and they were all enjoying themselves. Should the band have left out this footage in respect for the two victims? Possibly. But this is no Altamont and no snuff film.